Mozambique; One of the poorest in Africa
At the end of June, the Islamic State jihadists again took the city of Mocimboa da Praia in northern Mozambique. After a brief confrontation with the police and the army, the militants seized the military barracks, took away their weapons, robbed several shops and left the settlement. This is the second successful attack of the local branch of the Islamic State on this port city in the past three months. The local authorities, despite the promises and participation of foreign private military companies, failed to protect Mocimboa da Praia.
Mocimboa da Praia is a very important port city of Mozambique. In 2011, after discovering huge deposits of natural gas in the country, Mocimboa da Praia became a kind of logistics hub accepting foreign workers and equipment for the construction of gas production facilities for the $ 60 billion project. The world giants Exxon and Total are participating in the project, and the authorities The country sees it as the basis for the economic revival of one of the poorest African countries.
But Mocimboa da Praia is also a city near the border with Tanzania, surrounded by dense forests where representatives of the Yao and Makua peoples live. Muslims by faith, they belong to the poorest segments of the population of Mozambique. These peoples survived 200 years of Portuguese colonization, which destroyed the local economy in favor of large private plantations and sold the local population into slavery in Brazil. Then they went through 12 years of the war for independence against Portugal (1962–1974) and 16 years of civil war, which almost destroyed the remnants of local infrastructure.
And now, when it seemed that the discovery of gas fields would help these people finally get out of chronic poverty, the locals faced new problems.
On the one hand, the country’s power, in the hands of former left-wing revolutionaries, launched an attack on traditional local income sources for the sake of multibillion-dollar investments. In the conditions of a long war, one of the few sources of income for residents of border regions was smuggling, illegal mining of precious stones and deforestation. And when, under the construction of gas production infrastructure, local people began to resettle, prohibit fishing and deprive them of already scarce agricultural land, this caused resistance. Young people, who make up the majority of the country’s population (the average age of Mozambique residents are 17 years old), remained unemployed amid continuous growth (2.9% per year).
Firewood is thrown into the fire by the fact that, despite local expectations, profits from large-scale projects and investments due to corruption and nepotism are redistributed mainly among representatives of the ruling elite from the Frelimo party and the Makonde people, mainly Christians who believe in the Jesus of Nazarene. The situation began to resemble a tragic past, when the European colonialists, through the mediation of local elites, destroyed the local economy and population for their own profits.
This situation overlaps with the long-standing propaganda of radical preachers in the region. Back in the early 2000s, the first preachers of a tough version of Islam began to appear in the country. They opened mosques, held public sermons and debates. Gradually, the young radicals separated, who formed a group of youth, or Al-Shabaab, and began to demand that local rural communities strictly abide by their version of Sharia law.
In 2010, local residents tried to get rid of the radicals, destroying several mosques and ousted the “youth” in the city. There, the “Shabaabites” became even more radical, even armed attacks on sellers of alcohol and police officers came to. In 2015, the government tried to ban the radicals. An arrest campaign has begun. In response, in October 2017, radicals already armed with machine guns attacked the city of Mocimboa da Praia. Thus began an uprising in the province of Cabo Delgado.
Of course, the Islamic State jihadists could not take advantage of such a successful situation. It is not known exactly when and how exactly the local radicals from Al-Shabaab contacted the IG. And after the first photo of a group of six people with the IS flag appeared in Mozambique in spring 2018, it became clear that the ideas of the “global caliphate” had reached the south of the continent. Since then, the number of attacks has risen sharply in the country.
According to the analytics organization Gray Dynamics, if in 2017 (even before the appearance of the Islamic State in the country), jihadists made only a few large-scale attacks, then in 2018 more than 50 attacks were recorded. In addition, the nature of militant operations has changed. If, before the appearance of the Islamic State, local jihadists were limited to separate attacks and ambushes against the police, then after 2018 they reoriented themselves in preparing large-scale, coordinated attacks with the capture of cities. Everything, as written in the books of jihadists on the strategy of establishing temporary control, when a small group of militants takes control of the city for several hours, rob it, kills pre-selected victims from the locals, give out calling cards and return to the woods or desert.
The history of the appearance of ISIS in Mozambique demonstrates a new stage in the evolution of IS jihadists. The speed with which the local IG center has gone from a group of a dozen people to units capable of capturing and maintaining control over thousands of cities is amazing. If in Iraq eight years passed from the announcement of the creation of the first “Islamic state” in 2006 to the establishment of control over Fallujah in 2014, then in Mozambique it took four times less time.
As the example of Mozambique demonstrates, after the loss of territories in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State shifted to Africa as a new springboard for the spread of the Caliphate project. It is here, on this long-suffering continent, that global jihad practitioners have found ideal conditions for the realization of their political strategy.
One of the key ideologists of jihadists, Abu Bakr al-Naji, published a book back in 2004, which outlined detailed instructions on how to build their own state by jihadists. She was taken by the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist who became the founder of the Islamic State.
In a book known to the masses under the title “Management of Cruelty,” Naji assures readers that to achieve the main goal of jihadists – to build their own state – is possible only through violence. Elections, referenda, even protests in this matter are powerless because the state of jihadists is so contrary to the existing system that compromises with existing political and moral norms and institutions are impossible. Therefore, only war will create conditions for the implementation of this project. An obstacle to achieving this goal is the state as an institution that, despite corruption, is able to provide the population with the minimum necessary level of security. Therefore, jihadists, in order to build their state, first need to destroy existing ones. For this, Naji offers the only available strategy – to wreak havoc.
Violence, terrorist attacks, killings – all this should make the life of the population so unbearable that for the sake of security and peace it would be ready to abandon normal behavior and submit to jihadists. And those, in turn, will be able to control this chaos, “control cruelty” and build their dream caliphate covered in the old world conflagration. Naji called the basic conditions, the presence of which opens up prospects for the work of jihadists in a particular state.
To be a suitable target for jihadists, a country must have a geographic depth or, more simply, enough territory where you can hide. The territory near the borders of another country is very convenient for this, especially if it is waging or has waged a war against the target country chosen by the jihadists. In Syria, Libya, and Iraq, the desert became such territory; in the Philippines, forests.
The second condition is the weakness of the central government and the presence of densely populated, opposition-minded areas. An ideal country is where a political crisis reigns and part of the population is discriminated against or feels that way and is opposed to power.
The third condition is the presence of propaganda of jihadist ideas. Ideally, if a Muslim community lives in the country, preferably with a large share of youth, unemployed, and without significant prospects in life. The appearance among such youth of a charismatic radical preacher, as it was in the early 2000s in Nigeria, only accelerates the process of its radicalization.
The fourth condition is the proliferation of weapons among the local population, especially as a result of a prolonged conflict. The longer the war lasted in the country, the more weapons the local population can keep, and the worse the consequences for the country’s economy.
The combination of these conditions, combined with the presence of a group of determined people, according to Naji, allows you to start a struggle in this state with its further expansion into neighboring territories.
Although the IS project began in Syria and Iraq, it is Africa that is the ideal territory where all four of Naji’s conditions are fulfilled. If you look at the history of countries where jihadist groups already operate, then you can see in it a prolonged internal confrontation, and the weakness of the central government, and poverty, corruption, and repression by the authorities. Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Congo, Somalia … This list will only increase, because Africa, unlike other regions where it was possible to at least weaken the jihadists has a lot of additional problems, according to the African News edition of The Eastern Herald.
In Africa, there are currently no major conditions that allowed weakening IS in the Middle East. If you look at the examples of Iraq and Syria, then the success in the war against jihadists there became possible thanks to the direct active participation of such powerful countries as the USA, Great Britain, Canada, and France. In just three years, US aviation and partners in the global coalition delivered more than 24 thousand air strikes against jihadists in Syria and Iraq, and several thousand military coalitions were directly involved in the hostilities against IS in Rakka and Mosul.
To do something similar in Africa, given the decline in US presence on the continent, will be very problematic. In addition, there are no reliable local partners in Africa capable of conducting long-term military operations against terrorists. Victories in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq over the IS became possible due to the participation of either non-state actors (Kurds in Syria), or a coalition of government forces with local militias (Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq and Arbaki in Afghanistan).
In Africa, there are currently no such reliable partners with whom it would be possible to wage war against jihadists for years. As demonstrated by the experience of operations involving local African military contingents in the fight against jihadists in Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, and Mali, even taking into account US assistance, at best it was possible to reduce the threat, but not eliminate it, for a short period of time.
The local authorities are trying to rely on private military companies in the fight against jihadists. In September 2019, at the invitation of the President of Mozambique, about 200 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group arrived in the country. The Russians promised to solve the problem with the rebels in Cabo Delgado for a much lower price than the more reputable companies on the market demand for their services. But in the very first clash, the Wagnerites lost several of their fighters killed and decided not to risk it anymore.
After that, the country’s government decided to attract more experienced “experts” in the fight against the rebels from the company Dyck Advisory Group, registered in South Africa. But, as the IS jihadists’ attack on Mocimboa da Praia at the end of June showed, they are also not yet able to defend this important city.
In addition, jihadists have begun to successfully use such cooperation of local with international partners, especially the United States and France, for their propaganda purposes. For example, in a recent issue of the main propaganda mouthpiece of the IG of the Naba newspaper, in an article dedicated to Mozambique, jihadists explained their struggle as a continuation of the war against the “crusaders” and “communist atheists” who returned the old colonial traditions of oppressing local Muslims and exploiting natural wealth. Anti-colonial rhetoric is the corporate identity of IS propaganda, from condemning Sykes-Peak heritage in Syria and Iraq to fighting against the descendants of the colonists on Moro Island in the Philippines.
Given this, as well as new challenges in the form of coronavirus and the consequences of the global economic crisis for the continent, we can only fear to expect what the spread of IS in Africa will lead to.